Last Updated on June 26, 2023
Let’s talk about something really important – Vitamin B12. Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that our body needs to function properly, but unfortunately, our body can’t produce it on its own. That means we need to get it from the foods we eat or from supplements.
If we don’t get enough B12, it can lead to a range of symptoms that can be pretty serious as it plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, and proper nerve function.
In this article, we’ll talk about the symptoms of B12 deficiency, including common neurological and unusual symptoms, what causes it, and what foods to eat to increase our B12 intake. So, let’s get started!
B12 deficiency can cause a range of symptoms. Here are some of the most common signs:
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Sore tongue, mouth ulcers
- Digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, etc.
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Premature gray hair and thinning or hair loss
- Pale skin
It can also cause neurological symptoms like:
- Confusion or memory loss
- Difficulty walking or balance problems
- Brain fog
- Mood changes, such as depression, irritability or anxiety
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Vision changes, including blurred or double vision
- Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Difficulty with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning clothes
- That’s why it’s important to seek medical care if you suspect you might have a B12 deficiency.
Unusual symptoms of B12 deficiency
In some cases, B12 deficiency can cause unusual symptoms that may not immediately be recognized as related to a lack of B12. Here are a few examples:
- Hyperpigmentation: One of the less common symptoms of B12 deficiency is hyperpigmentation, which can cause darkening of the skin, particularly on the face, neck, and hands.
- Menstrual problems: Women are more likely than men to experience B12 deficiency and low B12 levels can cause a range of symptoms that are specific to females, including changes in menstrual cycles like heavy bleeding or irregular periods, difficulty becoming pregnant, increased risk of birth defects if B12 levels are low during pregnancy, and increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
- Itchy skin: Some people with B12 deficiency may experience itchy skin, sometimes accompanied by a rash.
What causes B12 deficiency?
The deficiency occurs when there is not enough B12 in the body to support normal functions. There are a few things that can cause B12 deficiency:
- Poor diet: Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods, so people who follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet may not get enough of the vitamin.
- Malabsorption: Some medical conditions can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food, such as pernicious anemia, atrophic gastritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or surgical removal of part of the stomach or small intestine.
- Autoimmune conditions: Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the cells in the stomach that produce intrinsic factors, a protein needed for the absorption of vitamin B12.
- Medications: Some medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and metformin, can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12.
- Aging: As people age, their ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases, which can increase the risk of deficiency.
- Genetic factors: Some genetic disorders can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, such as transcobalamin deficiency, which impairs the transport of vitamin B12 in the blood.
Foods high in vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essentially found in animal-based foods and some fortified plant-based foods. Here are some foods that are high in vitamin B12:
- Clams: Clams are one of the best sources of vitamin B12, with a 100-gram serving to provide over 16 times the recommended daily intake (RDI).
- Liver: The liver, particularly beef liver, is another excellent source of vitamin B12. A 100-gram serving of beef liver provides more than 7 times the RDI.
- Fish: Fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna, and sardines, are good sources of vitamin B12.
- Meat: Meat, including beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, contains significant amounts of vitamin B12.
- Eggs: Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12, with one large egg providing about 6% of the RDI.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of vitamin B12, particularly if they are fortified with the vitamin.
- Fortified cereals: Some breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12, providing up to 100% of the RDI per serving.
It’s important to note that vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based foods unless they are fortified with the vitamin. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians may need to rely on fortified foods or supplements to ensure they are getting enough vitamin B12.
Treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency
If you do have a B12 deficiency, don’t worry – it’s usually treatable with B12 supplementation. Depending on the severity and underlying cause of the deficiency, you may need injections, tablets, or sublingual spray. The recommended dose and duration of treatment also vary depending on the severity of the deficiency and the patient’s age, medical history, and overall health.
If the deficiency is caused by malabsorption, the underlying condition that is causing the malabsorption needs to be treated. In some cases, a diet rich in foods that contain vitamin B12 may be sufficient to correct the deficiency. However, in most cases, supplementation is necessary.
B12 deficiency is a serious issue that can have a range of symptoms. But, by increasing your intake of B12-rich foods or taking supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional, you can prevent or treat the deficiency and get back to feeling your best.
Remember to always seek medical attention if you suspect you might have a B12 deficiency and never take supplements without a doctor’s approval. A healthcare professional can perform tests to diagnose the deficiency and develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.